It was the summer of 2014 that taught Leon Balogun the true meaning of perspective in football and nearly a decade on, it's Rangers who are feeling the benefits. 

Then 26, he was released by Dusseldorf, relegated from the Bundesliga and suffered an injury that kept him out of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil all in the space of a matter of months. Six months of unemployment followed in a spell of bad luck that’s formed his outlook ever since.

“My career hadn’t really kicked off. I played in a team that just got relegated from the Bundesliga, Dusseldorf, I got my national team debut and broke my metatarsal three months before my contract expired. I came back in on crutches and was told that I was getting released. I was supposed to be in the World Cup squad in 2014 and missed out,” he recalled.

“I have tried to look at my career like it can be over like this. That is also something I am trying to pass on. I said it the other week, for me to be back at Rangers, which is a club that I love and learned to love during the first spell, it is a massive privilege every day.”

Balogun, speaking after his side’s 2-0 Christmas Eve win at Fir Park, is enjoying the benefit of a second chance at Ibrox too. Having been released in the summer of 2022, the 35-year-old was brought back to the club by Michael Beale in July when Leon King suffered a pre-season injury.

It took change in the dugout for that chance to materialise on the pitch, however. Balogun has started seven of the ten league matches that Philippe Clement's managed so far, earning clean sheets in five. The Ibrox side have a consistent partnership in the centre of defence that's providing the foundation for an impressive run of form. Rangers have only conceded eight league goals by Christmas and Balogun’s return to the heart of defence alongside Connor Goldson is one of the reasons for such resolve over a busy run of festive fixtures. 

“I think if you play for Rangers, in my case at least and that is probably the same for most of the boys who have been here for some time, you are used to it,” he continued, looking ahead to another three games in the space of a week before the winter break in early January.

“When I first came here they told me on average you play 55, 60 games. Wow! That is a big number, that. Especially coming from Germany when you have 17 games plus a few cup games and if you play for a team like I played then unfortunately it is only until the second round! It was very shocking!

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“But that is a different story and you have to prepare for it. The manager, the whole staff like the sports science staff, the medical staff, everybody keeps us on our toes so that we get the treatment, we do the add-ons in terms of cryotherapy. You get groomed for it and you get prepared for it and you follow the flow.

“I am 35, I have been trying to live like that for a few years now in order to add some years towards the end. It is not working out so badly for me. We are very privileged as footballers to be doing what we are doing. There comes a lot of joy with it, a lot of nice things come with being a footballer. A lot of sacrifice as well. But we have all the time in the world.

“You need to work on your craft all the time to be the best version that you can be. If you want to win trophies, if you want to play for the best teams in the world then you need to make sure that you are constantly at it. I think that should be a given. I know sometimes if you look out in the world some players it seems like the enjoyment factor gets more focus.”

Balogun may be in his mid-thirties but still boasts the pace and physicality which allow him to defend aggressively. After all, there’s been one or two notably older inhabitants of the centre-back slot at Rangers this decade - namely one David Weir who previously recommended Balogun to the club.

“I have never met him but I played with his son, Jensen, at Wigan,” the defender added. “He was somebody who recommended me at some point without ever meeting me. I hold him in very high regard. He is a good role model. A good number as well. Maybe I can make it.”

Clement inherited a messy situation in mid-October but has already returned one trophy in the form of the League Cup. His side sat second on Christmas Day just two points behind Celtic with a game in hand, far healthier than the seven-point gap inherited. Despite an ongoing injury crisis leaving the Belgian without any central midfielders and horrendous weather conditions in Lanarkshire acting as good a leveller as any on Sunday, Rangers just keep finding a way to win. Clement is now 16 games unbeaten in the job and appears to have fostered a spirit and resolve that lacked before his arrival.

“I think he is very demanding in his ways and he is challenging us every day. He has got very high demands,” added Balogun.

“That is not to say he is some sort of dictator or anything, but he is very meticulous in the way he wants to work and he reminds us in every given moment that we need to keep these standards up constantly, whether that is in the training sessions, in the game at half-time.

“Everybody is constantly on their toes. The way he wants to work is just something everyone had to adapt to and it is almost automatic, when you are trying to meet his expectations it just goes up.”